In spring 2023, LMU softball played one of the most impressive schedules among the university’s Division I teams: three opponents that finished with top-10 rankings and seven of the top 25. Among them were No. 3 Stanford and NCAA champions Oklahoma.
But LMU not only enjoyed quality of opponents. Softball also demonstrated quality of play. In spring 2023, the team claimed its second straight WCC title and second straight NCAA appearance. Coach Tairia Flowers repeated as WCC Coach of the Year, and Jenna Perez, then a junior, as WCC Pitcher of the Year. Altogether, LMU took nine of the conference’s post-season accolades.
The goal of the team for the 2024 season, Flowers says, is to play their best — typical coach talk, one might think. But Flowers’ message, regardless of the titles, awards, and tournament invitations earned, is that her team is capable of more. “We did some really good things last year, but I think we fell short of playing our absolute best as a team,” she says. “That’s always the goal.”
Softball generally is played at a quick pace, Flowers says, and her team works to maximize tempo. “We want to put pressure on a defense. We want to run, be fast-paced, swing early in the counts, push our pitchers to go right at the hitters.” That’s the key, she says, to “keeping our opponents from taking over the game.”
LMU’s recent success comes at a time when college softball is quickly growing in popularity nationwide. The 2023 NCAA Women’s College World series championship, featuring Oklahoma and Florida State., averaged 1.6 million viewers. In 2022, the women’s softball World Series pulled more viewers than the 2022 Men’s College World Series final ratings.
Flowers believes softball’s growth is partly due to players’ increased athleticism. “Players are faster and stronger in general, and more talent is spread out.”
Flowers will continue to exploit those trends. Success breeds recruits, she says. “When you’re winning, things are fun and it’s fun to watch.” But player performance isn’t the only attraction. “If the players are enjoying their experience, know they can be better, and play with confidence, then other people want to play with them. Yes, we have a beautiful campus, and our field and facilities are nice. But it’s also about relationships with their future coaches and their future teammates.”